SCHLADMING, Austria – Marcel Hirscher is a guy who can perform under pressure. In front of 10,000-plus Austrian fans, the home country hero who a couple of weeks ago celebrated his 23rd birthday, notched his first ever World Cup giant slalom globe and won the final race of the season on Saturday.
Trailing teammate Hannes Reichelt in second place after the first run, Hirscher surged ahead on the rapidly softening snow in Schladming to win the race in a combined time of 2 minutes, 25.53 seconds.
It was an emotional day on the slopes, with Didier Cuche opening the second run by saying his goodbye in an oldschool skiing outfit.
Hirscher couldn’t have wished for a better day, while he was standing on the podium, the usually very cool young Austrian had plenty of emotions pouring out.
“In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined a day like today,” Hirscher said. “Winning the GS cup, winning today’s race and winning the Overall in front of this crowd- when I live just a few kilometers away... Having my two teammates on the podium feels just like a bonus. I am so, so happy and overwhelmed. This has been a hectic time for me and I was just trying to stay focused on my skiing, not let all that talk about the globes get to me. Everyone has been speculating about that crystal globe while for me it was still all just about winning races, I almost found it boring because at some point it seemed as if for everyone else but me it became more about the numbers than about skiing. Even now, things could still happen in theory and as long as I don’t have the Overall globe in my hands I will not get euphoric about it. I have a hard time believing it’s real.”
It was a day of glory for Austria as Reichelt landed in second place, just 0.19 second back and 20-year-old Marcel Mathis, who managed his first career Cup podium a few weeks ago in Bansko, followed up with another, rounding out the podium in the final GS race, 0.55 seconds back.
“Today I did not lose my first GS victory, today I owned an amazing 2nd place,” Reichelt said. “It’s great to be on the podium in such company. Times were so close today and I am glad to see we have such a strong team. When I train with these guys I know that if I’m fastest in training- I am capable of winning races. I might be the oldest on the podium today, it’s hard to keep up with these young guys but I like to think I am like wine- I get better with time. Now I have to concentrate on training and getting ready for next season- maybe than it will be my time for a GS victory.”
After his third place in Bansko this season, Mathis charged from behind once again and was able to pull an amazing second run. He was the second fastest skier in the second run, skiing just a .09 seconds slower than Ligety who set the best time while testing and skiing on next year’s 35 meter radius skis.
”I was already really happy with how things went in Bansko, I was surprised to say the least” Mathis who is only 20 years old said. “But than to achieve this podium in front of my crowd is something special. I started my season setting my goals in the Europa Cup Tour, than things started going really well really past- I got a spot on the World Cup Tour and even landed two podiums. That was really, really unexpected. This race gives me so much confidence and motivation for the training we have lined up for the upcoming summer months.”
Mathias Berthold, the head coach of the Austrian men’s ski team called this the best day of his coaching career.
“You couldn’t ask for more- top three spots today, a GS cup, the Overall…” Berthold listed out what his team achieved today. “Bit’s and pieces came together. Since last year we have been getting better and better as a team. There is Marcel as our top racer and than the whole team that stands behind him. Today was unbelievable, it’s the most amazing day in my life as a coach.”
It has been an intense couple of days for Beat Feuz, he came into the Finals as the leading man of skiracing when a mistake in the Super G made his world go upside-down in a second. But, Feuz is still really pleased with how his season went.
“My season was perfect,” Feuz said after losing the Overall to Hirscher today. His only chance would be scoring a 10th or better place in tomorrow’s Slalom race and Hirscher not getting any- it’s a somewhat unrealistic scenario.
“Hirscher was just better this year, he scored more points and that’s how this sport goes. His Slalom and Giant Slalom skiing is simply amazing and I respect that. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll start the Slalom tomorrow but even if I do it’s unrealistic to me to expect making up those 25 points.”
American Ted Ligety – GS title holder of the previous two seasons – hiccupped in the Schladming race. He slid out and had to hike in the first run and ended up last, but still ended up in second place in the giant slalom standings behind Hirscher.
Today a legacy has been passed on; on the day the youngest skier so far has clenched the Overall globe all the skiers honored a veteran who was saying goodbye by attempting (some more successfully than others) his signature ski flip. Seeing Cuche make his last run down the slopes, the longest one of his career dressed to show the world “how ski racing has evolved from the times when people started competing,” was something very emotional and special…the Tour will for sure miss him but it’s comforting to know there are plenty of great young skiers that he inspired and that will be following his footsteps.
The last race on the men’s 2011/2012 schedule is Sunday’s Slalom where Kostelic will try to defend his 50 points lead from Hirscher who is obviously on fire these days. So, stay tuned, as there is more excitement to come.
Here are some video comments form Mathias Berthold, the head coach of the Austrian men’s ski team and Hannes Reichelt.
by Ana Jelusic